Last week a legend died. Vivian Brown, one of San Francisco’s famous identical twins, who were known for their matching haute couture styles, impeccable hairdos, and their ability to walk, walk, walk through the hills of the City, is being mourned. She was 85, and eight minutes younger than her twin Marian.
I first spotted the twins when I moved to San Francisco in 1980. I worked in advertising for a travel magazine and although our offices were located in SOMA, or South of Market, I traveled often around the City for sales calls and business lunches.
One afternoon as I left the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill after a travel luncheon I spotted two petite women identically dressed, walking across the street on California. They caught my eye because they were obviously twins and were dressed in identical pink wool suits with what looked like expensive pink shoes. Their matching well-sprayed hairdos peaked out from under identical pillbox hats. I couldn’t believe my eyes–they were stunning and, for lack of a better description, very cute. They had identical pink purses, latched on opposite arms. I felt like I’d dropped in on Alice through the looking glass. These girls even walked in unison. I couldn’t help but stare. I watched them retreat.
Back at the office I told my friend, the production manager, about the twins.
“Oh,” she said. “You’ve just seen the famous twins. They walk everywhere throughout the City. They live up on Nob Hill.”
Over the years I would see them periodically, sometimes on Nob Hill, sometimes at Union Square. Once they were wearing identical leopard skin outfits, complete with matching Karzai style hats. Another time they were dressed to the nines in what had to be Chanel. Each time, it made my day. It seems odd that a simple thing — spotting identical twins — should matter, but it did. Maybe it was because they dressed so well, always seemed to be having their own private party, and were so cheerful that made them — and spotting them — a unique experience. And I wasn’t alone in being charmed. Their appearance affected everyone who saw them. They even made it into cameo roles in a couple movies and several ads.
And now the death of Vivian has made headlines. According to the AP, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee made the statement that Brown was “a truly remarkable woman who represented the best of our city.” The Brown twins, originally from Kalamazoo, Michigan, walked the hills of San Francisco for 40 years. Brown died in her sleep January 9.